Danielle LaFrance on Rachel Zolf’s Janey’s Arcadia (Toronto: Coach House, 2014)
Red squiggles underline the majority of lines I type from Rachel Zolf’s new book of poetry, Janey’s Arcadia (Coach House 2014). My word processor is angry: it wants me to know that words are spelt incorrectly—it wants me to correct these lines. And this is exactly what the text attempts to counter, this correction of Canada’s ongoing colonial, genocidal history. In an interview, Zolf describes how her work is about denial and disavowal in some way, and I usually get there through looking at the rhetorical construction of competing knowledges. It took going all the way to Palestine to realize that I was ignoring my responsibility as a settler-colonial interloper on this land” (23).
Janey Settler-Invader, a mutated, multifarious subject, slithers toward the Red River Colony (splicing together Kathy Acker’s Janey Smith with Janey Canuck amongst other voices) in cyborg fashion — the feminine subject, but also a residual byproduct of the settler in the present: “[A]t the same time friends theorized . . . No. We eniptoy them continually, and trear them honestly, and thev fear and respect us” (111). The text attempts to actualize how it looks and feels when acknowledgements become formalities: “ . . . The sisters / run an industrial school where 250 orph8ns and Indign / children are cared for at the horny sauce of discord . . . sans any kind / of boner but a wishbone” (73).
This book isn’t an answer to settler-colonialism, just as the question: “do you consider yourself a settler?” (as Zolf has asked audiences in multiple venues) isn’t an end-point. Any answer is dissatisfying. It is not responsibility so much as discomfort, an itch that must fester inwards then out, back. “We could say that the object of analysis in Janey’s Arcadia is not a ‘thing,’ but a mediation” (De’Ath). Janey’s Arcadia deploys ocr—software that digitally-encodes print material, often producing misspellings—and is intended to be read. In performance, Zolf pops a blood vessel in her eye as she sounds out the ocr’d text (becoming-monster, becoming anachronistic settler). Zolf wants to “make more noise” (“Recognizing Mad Affects” 3), a noise that creates space for a new kind of dialogue between social subjects where it didn’t previously exist.
While in Vancouver to launch Janey’s Arcadia, Zolf organized a polyvocal performance of the names of indigenous women murdered in Canada in front of Gastown’s Gassy Jack statue: http://vimeo.com/118604189. We speakers felt the extended interrogation and ferocity behind the text. Before we took on our roles, a group of tourists admired the statue. Witnessing this perverted glorification of Canadian history, this tour group was informed of the historical patriarch’s lesser-known backdrop: Jack was a pedophile who falked a young 12-year old indigenous girl (Crompton and Wallstam). Such cultural memories are actively effaced, seemingly with naive ignorance, but ignorance nonetheless: violence in its most banal form. Janey’s Arcadia is not subject to the confines of the page—it demands another kind of action from the reader, the settler.
De’ath, Amy. “Rachel Zolf Introduction.” Rachel Zolf Launches Janey’s Arcadia in Vancouver.
Gallery Gachet, Vancouver. 24 Sept. 2014. Reading.
“An Interview with Rachel Zolf.” Interview by Clarise Foster. Contemporary Verse 2: Canadian
Journal of Poetry and Critical Writing. Summer 2011: 9–23. Print.
Wallstam, Maria, and Nathan Crompton. “City of Perpetual Displacement: 100 Years since the
Destruction of the Kitsilano Reserve.” The Mainlander. Mainlander Writing Society, 25 July
2013. Web. 8 Jan. 2015.
Zolf, Rachel. “Recognizing Mad Affects Beyond Page and Screen.” Affect and Audience in the
Digital Age. University of Washington, Seattle. 18 Oct. 2013. Lecture.